SRI LANKA – Overview
Bilaterality characterizes the most fruitful cultural diplomacy projects, and Battery Dance Company’s relationship with Sri Lanka, beginning with its visit to Colombo in 1994, has since flourished into a profoundly symbiotic exchange.
While U.S. and Sri Lankan government funding undoubtedly played an important role in fueling these exchanges, it has been the personal relationships with Sri Lankan dancers, drummers and dance teachers that accounts for the momentum of the projects.
By following the projects from 1994 – 2006 described in this toolkit, you may gain some insights into the ways and means of initiating and nurturing artistic collaborations with cultures that, on first glance, bear no relationship to one another.
Note: Even though BDC has not had the opportunity to work in Sri Lanka since 2006, we have seen the relationship with Upeka and her family continue in unexpected and exciting ways. For example, Upeka’s niece Heshma, who is now the primary choreographer of the Chitrasena Dance Company, came to New York on an Eisenhower Fellowship in September, 2012, and interviewed Jonathan Hollander to gain from his insights on the future of dance in Sri Lanka. Heshma was a youngster when she first was exposed to Western modern dance at Battery Dance Company’s performance in Colombo. Now she is a prize-winning choreographer whose accomplishments were celebrated in a recent Joyce Theater season in New York accompanied by stellar reviews and a Bessie Award.
Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in 2006.
Master classes at the Dutch Burgher Union
Battery’s program in Sri Lanka represented a double treat. First, the company had the opportunity to return to this dance-loving country in which it had established collaborations with the two leading dance institutions - Neelung and Chitrasena - on two previous visits and as the U.S. host for visiting dancers and musicians from Sri Lanka in New York. Second, the company relished the chance to work again with Terry White, newly established PAO in Colombo, who had coordinated BDC’s Morocco program in 2004.
As expected, the visit of five days was deeply rewarding. PAS Colombo is staffed by very committed FSN’s and with Terry’s leadership, and oversight from the equally arts-friendly DCM Jim Moore, all signs point to a robust American cultural diplomacy program that will engender goodwill and inspire the Sri Lankan people over the next several years (if political conditions permit). BDC was thrilled with the turnout at its six master classes and made several observations:
In a notable demonstration of the generosity of the Sri Lankan dance community and their eagerness to participate in the workshops, Neelung Dance Academy arranged for the loan of a portable dance floor (Marley) to the Dutch Burgher Union – a beautiful old building with teak flooring (good for spring, but too slippery for ballet slippers and too splintered for bare feet). Due to the island’s tropical climate, appropriate dance spaces are scarce; Neelung’s contribution made all the difference.
Performances at Bishop's College Auditorium
Battery Dance invited Chitrasena and Neelung dance institutions to collaborate in its two performances at the Bishop’s College Auditorium by selecting a young dancer of special promise to perform on BDC’s programs. This concept of sharing the stage with local dancers, successfully implemented by BDC on previous tours (Vietnam, Australia, Morocco and elsewhere) worked out beautifully in Colombo. Neelung deputed a young male dancer and Chitrasena, a female, accompanied by a bevy of 4 male drummers. It seemed that the Sri Lankan audience saw its own dancers in a new way, when presented on the stage of an internationally acclaimed company from New York. The universality of dance and music was underlined as the audience responded with equal enthusiasm to classical Kandyan dance as well as contemporary western dance on the same program.
Radio interviews with Jonathan Hollander
The U.S. Embassy organized two radio interviews with Jonathan Hollander. The first one, on Lite 89.2, included airtime for some of Battery’s music, as well as a discussion about the company’s work in Sri Lanka. The second interview, on 101.7 – “TNL Rocks”— was notable because it was broadcast on the country’s most popular youth station, along with pop & rock music, giving Hollander the opportunity of reaching out to the island’s teen & young adult audience.